So many weeks and days of preparation and then Christmas is over. Oh, maybe you were able to stretch it out over a few days with parties and visits to various relatives and friends but at some point the cookies are gone, the tree has to come down, the lights have to come off the house, the gifts get put away and — and — and — and then it’s over — all done — finished. The living room looks cavernous without the tree. The kids are fighting over the last candy cane. And you are — happy but exhausted; pleased the week went well but not so pleased to get back to ordinary life.

Those of us who live in the North have a lot of short, cold and dark winter days ahead. Christmas really marks the beginning of it, not the end, not even the middle. How can we resist the pull of the dark and perk up ourselves and our families?

It really isn’t that hard. All it takes is reminding ourselves that whether we continue some of the holiday joy — or not — is a choice. It doesn’t happen to us. We create the reality that comes next.

If you love the glitter, fellowship, cooking and giving of Christmas, there really is no reason to wait for eleven months for it to all happen again. Here are some ideas to keep the holiday spirit, if not every day, at least often enough that life has regular sparkle.

  1. Slow down the un-decorating.
    Just because January is here doesn’t mean the tree needs to come down. Sure, if you have a natural tree, it does have to be taken out when there are more needles on the floor than on the tree. But, short of that, it can wait. I have friends who keep theirs up every year until their daughter’s early February birthday. The little girl loves finding her birthday presents under the tree. Another friend who has an artificial tree keeps hers up all year round, decorating it differently every month: hearts for February Valentine’s Day; shamrocks for March St. Patrick’s Day; joke books in April, etc. Visiting her each month to see her tree is a treat.
  2. There’s a reason that almost every culture has a festival of lights in winter.
    Lights push away the winter gloom and create a warm and friendly atmosphere. Shine some light on the darkness. Keep some holiday lights up in your living room. Burn candles. If you have a fireplace, use it. If you live where you can do such things, consider having a bonfire and roasting marshmallows with the kids — even without kids.
  3. Find reasons to celebrate regularly and often.
    Take a look at some of the websites that list obscure (and often hilarious) national holidays. If you are worried about keeping your New Year’s resolutions, you can start with the National Personal Trainer Awareness Day on January 2 or National Fruit Cake Toss Day on January 3. Almost any day of the year can be a holiday. For inspiration, check out such sites as http://www.holidayinsights.com/ or http://www.holidayscalendar.com  or http://www.nationaldaycalendar.com/, that list events, people or activities that someone somewhere thought were important enough to celebrate. Make some treats. Invite some friends over. There’s nothing like a friendly get-together with some good food to warm up a cold winter’s evening.
  4. Find a way to enjoy winter.
    Where I live, the cold months last a long time. Spending months being mad that it isn’t warm outside is a prescription for feeling down. Dress for winter and get out there. Being in nature is healing, whatever the weather. Go for a walk. Take pictures. Ski. Snowshoe. Skate. If you really can’t stand it out of doors, celebrate the winter months by curling up in front of a fire instead of in front of the TV. Or make some hot chocolate and call a friend.
  5. Stay connected in your community.
    Instead of withdrawing into a lonely cocoon after New Year’s, check your local paper or town website for happenings during the rest of the winter months. Yes it can be difficult to motivate yourself to go out after dinner when it’s dark but being around people who are enjoying themselves is one way to feel a sense of community and belonging. Make a commitment to get out to some concert, museum, new movie or get-together at least a couple of times a month.
  6. Do random acts of kindness.
    Gifts of our time or attention or providing small services are as meaningful as anything that we wrapped for under the tree. Getting out of ourselves by doing positive things for others gets us into a more positive frame of mind. It’s transformative. Really.
  7. If nothing is as exciting to you as Christmas, get a jump on next year.
    I collect stocking stuffers all year long. I frequent thrift shops, antique stores, and garage sales, always on the look-out for things I know various members of my family will enjoy. If you are crafty, there’s a whole 11 months ahead to have fun creating, knitting, building, glue-gunning.

The end of the holidays isn’t the end of the world. It’s just the turn of the calendar. It’s up to each of us to find the “holiday spirit” in every day (all right, at least most days). As actress Gillian Anderson once said, “I hope everyone that is reading this is having a really good day. And if you are not, just know that in every new minute that passes you have an opportunity to change that.”